I want to say a big thank you to the church for the gift of my sabbatical. It was good to know that the church can survive fine without me and to have the space to seek God and to have some great places to pray. So often the busyness of life can crowd out our relationships and some of the most important relationships we have with our family, friends and most of all Jesus, can get pushed aside. This sabbatical God used to rebuild my relationship with Christ and I am thankful for that.
The greater part of my time was spent learning about the life of St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century disciple of Jesus, who gave his life to following Christ in obedience, peace and poverty. His journey of faith started very simply, hearing God’s voice through the cross of a rundown church outside of Assisi at San Damiano. As St. Francis was seeking God’s guidance in this little chapel he heard a voice come from the cross and telling him three times, ‘Francis, go and repair my house. You see it is falling down.’ Francis was alone in the church and although terrified took those words to his heart and began a new life, working to rebuild the church.
For St Francis, this rebuilding work was both the physical task of repairing 3 small chapels in the area, and making them places of worship and prayer. The greater building work though was in allowing God to fashion his life as a beautiful stone in God’s temple. While those 3 small chapels are preserved today, it is the life of St. Francis that has had the greatest impact on the church. St. Francis’ life shines as an example of obedience before Christ, following the Jesus we meet in scripture without compromise in loving God and loving neighbour. In Francis’ time, the church was in decline, full of apathy and compromise to the culture of the day. So we face the same challenges in our society, we are part of a national declining church, we are living in a consumerist world that shapes our thinking and actions, we are as a society on the whole apathetic towards God. And yet I see that just as God spoke to Francis so God is speaking to us and his Spirit is moving in our Churches and in our Circuit.
Let me share three examples.
• The building development at SRMC. Over the last 2 years we have been listening to God’s voice and as a church have made a decision of both hope and faith to develop our premises for the future that we might better be a light in the community. The purpose of the new building is to open the doors so that those in our community might meet with Jesus and worship him.
• Chopwell Prayer and Praise. We have been meeting for nearly a year, praying for the needs in the village and seeking God’s guidance for the life of the church. We are seeing our prayers answered and starting to change our thinking from how do we keep our church going to ask where God is at work.
• Welcoming refugees. Over the last year we have been seeking to find ways to welcome our Syrian neighbours. This has been a gift of God to us, challenging the churches in
Rowlands Gill and Highfield to move beyond our comfort zone and reach out to the stranger. In doing so we have not only made friends with the Syrian families, but with others in Highfield (especially through the Tuesday football) and strengthened our relationships with our Anglican sisters and brothers.
These are just 3 examples of the way God is working, I could mention many others. What is important is that each of us like St. Francis is seeking after God and looking to join in with what the Holy Spirit is doing. We don’t need a sabbatical to do that but we do need time set aside each day to pray for God’s grace to serve him. We do need to take care of our own spiritual life as well as building the Church.
As we begin another Church year may God bless you, and may Christ build us up together into his beautiful temple.
The Prayer of St Francis
Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.